Michele Rhee’s StudentsFirst “education reform” group gives Louisiana a B-, Connecticut a D+

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Michele Rhee and her corporate education reform industry advocacy group are back with their annual “report card.”

Over the last three years Rhee and StudentsFirst (called GNEPSA here in Connecticut) have been one of Governor Malloy’s strongest supporters, helping to fund the most expensive lobbying campaign in Connecticut history.  To date, Rhee and her fellow corporate education reform industry advocates have spent over $6 million to push Malloy’s “education reform” initiatives.

This week Rhee and StudentsFirst issued their 2013 report card on schools.

Louisiana, once again, comes in first in the nation.  Connecticut pops up far down the list.

Rhee gives Louisiana a 2013 grade of B- and Connecticut a grade of D+.

Is the report card based on how students perform?

Nope, as the following chart indicates, Connecticut students easily outperform Louisiana students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test.

Reading Connecticut Louisiana
Percent at Goal 83% 68%
Percent at Proficient 45% 24%

 

Is it that Louisiana does better with select populations?

Nope, same result.  Connecticut does better.

Reading (Percent at goal) Connecticut Louisiana
White 89% 81%
Black 68% 54%
Hispanic 67% 69%
Low income/poverty 67% 60%

 

Is it that Louisiana does a better job closing the Achievement Gap between student populations?

Nope, here is the data about the gap in scores between higher performing students (those at the 75th percentile) and lower performing students (those at the 25 percentile).

Reading Connecticut Louisiana
 Achievement Gap 45 points 44 points

 

So what is it that Michelle Rhee and StudentsFirst are measuring?

As StudentsFirst explains, “Unlike most report cards, ours doesn’t look at test scores. Instead, it focuses on whether each state’s laws prioritize the interests of students and families.”

By Rhee’s definition, Louisiana is best in the nation because it has the strongest anti-teacher, anti-union and charter school laws and Louisiana does the best job diverting public funds to charter schools and other privatization efforts.

According to StudentsFirst;

“Louisiana has established itself as a national leader for creating innovative and important student-centered education policies. The state has adopted meaningful educator evaluations, and it requires districts to base all personnel decisions, as well as compensation structures, on classroom effectiveness. Louisiana is also a leader for empowering parents with choice and information. The state provides parents with useful and easy-to-understand information regarding school performance in the form of an A-F school report card. In addition to their traditional neighborhood schools, parents can choose from a robust network of public charter schools or take advantage of an opportunity scholarship program that prioritizes low-income students stuck in low-performing schools. The state also has some policies that promote better use of resources, but could improve fiscal transparency by linking student outcomes and taxpayer dollars spent and provide greater staffing flexibility to school leaders. Finally, the state has created an innovative alternative governance structure to turn around failing schools through the Recovery School District, which serves as a model for governance intervention across the nation.”
When it comes to elevating the “Teaching Profession,” Louisiana gets an A- (Connecticut gets a C)

On “Empowering Parents,’ Louisiana gets a C+ (Connecticut gets an F)

And when it comes to the concept of “Spend Wisely and Govern Well,” Louisiana gets a C- (Connecticut gets a C)

Michelle Rhee’s message to Connecticut students, parents, teachers and citizens is that when it comes to educational achievement, even though Connecticut does better across the board, the state should follow the lead of Louisiana and continue to undermine its public education system.

The sad reality is that Governor Malloy and his Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor, are actually following Michelle Rhee’s advice.

Here is Diane Ravitch’s post on the Michelle Rhee “Report Card” http://dianeravitch.net/2014/01/14/studentsfirst-issues-another-ludicrous-state-report-card/

Corporate Education Reform Industry spends nearly $4.7 million on Connecticut lobbying, little of it telling the truth.

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Pro-public education commentator Wendy Lecker has written another “must read” piece, this time pointing out the fact that corporate education reformers are either unwilling or unable to tell the truth as the spin their political stories to try and convince elected officials and the public to support their “education reform” agenda.

Lecker, like many of us, has heard the latest round of ads that side-step the truth in a politically self-righteous attempt to convince us that we can improve out public education system by handing it over to private corporations and charter schools.

This new $1.5 million advertising campaign by a front organization called, ironically enough, A Better Connecticut, is just one more step in the most expensive lobbying effort in Connecticut history.

Here are the latest numbers;

To date, since Governor Malloy took office, the corporate education reform industry has spent at least $4,650,721.54 on lobbying, breaking all Connecticut records for the most expensive effort in history to buy up Connecticut Public Policy.

The following chart reveals the players in this scheme.

Following the chart is a link to Wendy Lecker’s latest piece in the Stamford Advocate, Bridgeport Post and other Hearst media outlets.

Corporate Education Reform Organization Amount Spent on Lobbying
   
Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN) $1,121,672.17
   
Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc. (ConnAD) $758,969.00
   
A Better Connecticut $1,490,000.00
   
Students First/GNEPSA (Michelle Rhee) $876,602.08
   
Achievement First, Inc. (Dacia Toll/Stefan Pryor) $237,504.22
   
Connecticut Council for Education Reform  (CCER) $126,559.85
   
Students for Education Reform (Michelle Rhee) $15,714.22
   
Connecticut Charter School Association/N.E. Charter School Network $22,000.00
   
Excel Bridgeport $515.00
   
Teach For America $1,185.00
   
EDUCATON REFORM LOBBYING EXPENDITURES $4,650,721.54

 

Wendy Lecker: Imagining where all that money could have gone

“Proponents of corporate-driven education reforms seem to believe that the notion of telling the truth is a low priority. Take for example the false claims being made by charter school advocates about the size of waiting lists for charter schools.

In as diverse locations as Massachusetts and Chicago, charter lobbyists having been pushing charter school expansion by claiming lengthy waiting lists. In both locations, investigations by journalists at the Boston Globe and WBEZ revealed that the waiting list numbers were grossly exaggerated, often counting the same students multiple times. As a Massachusetts legislator noted, raising the charter cap based on artificial numbers “doesn’t make sense.” Unless, of course, your main goal is charter expansion rather than sound educational policy

Another common theme promoted by charter schools is the questionable claim of amazing success. Recently, Geoffrey Canada of the famed Harlem Children’s Zone gave an online seminar in which he boasted a 100 percent graduation rate at his schools. However, if one looks at HCZ’s attrition rate, the true graduation rate is 64 percent. Many have also noted that Canada kicked out two entire grades of children because of sub-par test scores.

Here in Connecticut, ConnCAN, the charter school lobby, is the prominent peddler of shaky claims and half-truths about charter schools.

Recently, in an effort to promote the expansion of charter schools in Bridgeport, Jennifer Alexander, the CEO of ConnCAN, Inc. declared that nearly 80 percent of charters outperform their host districts. However, data from the State Department of Education reveals that about 90 percent of Connecticut’s charters serve a less needy population than their host districts: fewer poor children, fewer English Language Learners or fewer students with disabilities, with most having a combination of two or three of these categories.

Considering poverty, language barriers and special education needs are the prominent factors influencing standardized test scores, it is not much a feat to have higher test scores with a less challenging population. ConnCAN’s claim is hardly an indication of success or innovation.”

Read the rest of Lecker’s commentary piece here: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Wendy-Lecker-Imagining-where-all-that-money-4526450.php#ixzz2TlStOU64

News Flash: Corporate Education Reformers Spend $563,000 and counting in Bridgeport loss

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The final reports from Bridgeport’s November 2012 education reform referendum are in and it turns out that the corporate education reform industry and its supporters spent at least $562,955.16 in their effort to pass Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s anti-democracy initiative, a proposal that would have eliminated the City’s democratically elected board of education and replaced it with one appointed by the mayor.

In the end, Residents for a Better Bridgeport, the political action committee formed by Mayor Finch and his supporters, spent a total of $275,671.80 in the November 2012 referendum campaign that ended with Mayor Finch’s plan going down to defeat by a nearly 2 to 1 margin.

Excel Bridgeport, the corporate funded education reform group that has been lobbying for Bridgeport’s public school privatization efforts reported spending $101,803.36.

And when the dust settled, Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst (which goes by the name of Great New England Public School Alliance) spent a total of $185,480.

Organization Reported Total Spending
Residents for a Better Bridgeport $275,671.80
Excel Bridgeport $101,803.36
StudentsFirst/GNEPSA $185,480
TOTAL $562,955.16

 

Taken together, the level of spending by the education reformers broke all Connecticut records for a referendum vote.

Residents for a Better Bridgeport:

In their final campaign finance report, Residents for a Better Bridgeport reported raising another $94,444 in the final week of the campaign, bringing the total amount the group raised (and spent) to over $275,000.

Late corporate campaign donations came in from the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, The Charter Oak Challenge Foundation; Bridgeport based Enviro Express Inc., Mellon Bank, Danbury’s Morganti Group Inc., Bridgeport’s Trefz Corporation and Webster Bank, as well as a number of smaller corporate donations.

Webster Bank’s contribution was for $10,000, Mellon Bank put in $5,000 and the Trefz Corporation added $7,000 to the campaign effort.

The Charter Oak Challenge Foundation, which was created by Andy Boas, the Chairman of Achievement First – Bridgeport’s Board of Directors, gave the anti-democracy political action committee $14,000.

According to the Charter Oak Challenge Foundation’s website, the charity “was founded to help children and families who have the ability to succeed but need financial support to realize their potential. Its founder, Andy Boas, wanted to improve the languishing conditions in Bridgeport by funding a meaningful program for children’s education.”

The final report also revealed that Jonathan Sackler gave the PAC a check for $50,000 just after the last pre-election report was due.

Sackler was the early funder behind Stefan Pryor’s creation of Achievement First, Inc., the larger charter school management company that owns 20 schools in New York and Connecticut and is working to get approval to expand their present schools as well as build new schools in Connecticut. Stefan Pryor is now Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.

Sackler was also the funding force behind the corporate education reform advocacy groups ConnCAN, ConnAD, and the national education reform advocacy group 50-CAN.

Most recently, it came to light that Sackler hosted a major fundraiser for Prosperity for Connecticut, the political action committee affiliated with Governor Malloy.  Collecting over $42,000, Sackler’s May 2012 fundraiser was the most successful event Malloy’s political action committee has had to date.

What is particularly noteworthy about Sackler $50,000 donation is that since Residents for a Better Bridgeport was registered as a “Referendum PAC,” the maximum allowable donation under Connecticut law was $14,442.90.

How Residents for a Better Bridgeport PAC believes it could legally accept Sackler’s $50,000 donation is not clear.

Finally, the Residents for a Better Bridgeport final report included a $1,000 contribution from Connecticut Future PAC, Inc.  Connecticut Future PAC, Inc. was the independent “super-PAC” created to support Chris Murphy’s campaign for the United States Senate.  The PAC, which spent over $485,000 to support Murphy’s campaign, donated $1,000, after Election Day, to the Finch referendum effort.

According to the final report, Residents for a Better Bridgeport PAC spent about $55,000 more on direct mail, $57,000 for phone banking services and $25,000 more for polling.  Much of the remaining funding went to at least 132 campaign workers, who in the case of the Residents for a Better Bridgeport were labeled “consultants.”

Excel Bridgeport, Inc:

In its final report of the campaign, Excel Bridgeport reported that they spent a total of $101,803.36, of which $66,900 went for direct mail.

Excel Bridgeport’s direct mail vendor was a company called Campaignswon.   According to the company’s website, one of the firm’s partners is Bridgeport’s Jorge Cabrera.

Cabrera is also Excel Bridgeport’s “Community Organizer” and while the Excel Bridgeport campaign finance reports show various reimbursements to Cabrera for supplies, they do not report any in-kind contribution of time.  Failure to report direct or in-kind expenditures is a violation of Connecticut campaign finance law.

Much of Excel Bridgeport’s remaining expenditures went to cover the costs of more than two dozen field staff who were paid for services described as “direct outreach and/or holding signs.”

StudentsFirst/Greater New England Public School Alliance (GNEPSA):

In an earlier report, StudentsFirst/Great New England Public School Alliance reported paying $97,000 to a company called FieldWins for door-to-door canvassers.  FieldWins is a New York company that formed a parallel entity in Connecticut.  The final set of reports from Michelle Rhee’s organization indicated that later in the campaign she paid $35,000 to a company named SKD Knickerbocker for television ads and another $53,480 to FieldWins for additional canvassing services.

And $700 for Vallas’ Haitian Activities:

And one of the strangest twists, after spending nearly $563,000 in their failed attempt to persuade Bridgeport voters to undermine their own democratic rights, Residents for a Better Bridgeport ended the campaign with surplus funds of $702.79.  The political action committee donated the $700 to Los Angeles based J/P Haitian Relief Organization.

In February 2011, Bridgeport Superintendent of School, Paul Vallas, joined the J/P Haitian Relief Organization’s Board of Directors.

According to the charity’s IRS filings, “J/P HRO RUNS AN ACCREDITED IN-CAMP SCHOOL, ECOLE DE ‘L’ESPOIR’ (‘SCHOOL OF HOPE’), WHICH NOW SERVES AROUND 550 CHILDREN. J/P HRO ALSO IS IMPLEMENTING A PROGRAM FOR YOUTH WHO HAVE NOT FINISHED THEIR PRIMARY EDUCATION TO GIVE THEM THE FOUNDATION THEY NEED TO CONTINUE THEIR EDUCATION BEYOND THE PRIMARY LEVEL.”

It has remained unclear what compensation or benefits, if any, Vallas receives from his work in Haiti but the Foundation’s annual report indicates that last year they provided over $60,000 in “in-kind” services for that education program.

Campaign Finance Violations:

As Wait, What? readers know, following complaints I filed with the Connecticut’s State Elections Enforcement Commission, the Commission voted to authorize individual investigations into alleged campaign finance violations by Residents for a Better Bridgeport, Excel Bridgeport and Michelle Rhee and her Great New England Public Schools Alliance.  These most recent reports reveal a number of other apparent violations of Connecticut law.

Future posts will outline these myriad of campaign finance issues.

Readers will also recall that these latest donations come on top of tens of thousands of dollars in previous donations from companies and individuals that do business with the Finch Administration or rely on Mayor Finch and the Bridgeport Democrats for support.

Earlier contributions to Finch’s referendum efforts included;

Aquarion Water Company which donated $14,000

Bridgeport Hospital which donated $14,422.90

Bridgeport and Port Jefferson Company $14,000

CT Coalition for Advancement Now (ConnAD) $14,000

Harbor Yard Sports & Entertainment which donated $14,442.90

Jarvis Group LLC, NY (in-kind video) $14,376.40

Pullman and Comeley law firm $7,000

St. Vincent Medical Center which donated $14,400

United Illuminating which donated $10,000

In addition, there were some large individual contributions including one for $25,000 from Bradford Evans, a Senior Advisor at Morgan Stanley and a $25,000 contribution from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

 

Stay tuned for more about the legal troubles facing Bridgeport’s education reformers.

Education Reformer Michelle Rhee tells Connecticut: You Suck!

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First Governor Malloy proposed the most anti-teacher, anti- union “education reform” bill of any Democratic governor in the nation.

While minor changes were made, the final bill was touted as a major victory for the corporate reformers.  It promoted the expansion of charter schools and took a major step forward in the effort to turn our public schools into testing factories.

The day after the bill became a public act, Governor Malloy was the guest of honor at the home of Jonathan Sackler, Connecticut’s leading financial backer of “education reform” advocacy efforts in the state.

Sackler and Malloy’s Commissioner of Education formed Achievement First, Inc. the large charter school management company that owns twenty charter schools in Connecticut and New York. Sackler then went on to form a variety of state and national education reform organizations.

The event, a fundraiser for Malloy’s Prosperity for Connecticut political action committee was the largest grossing event Malloy has had to date, bringing in over $41,000.

Nearly all the donors were connected to Achievement First, ConnCAN, ConnAD, 50-CAN or one of the national charter school organizations.  The Chief Operating Officer of Michelle Rhee’s organization, StudentsFirst, was among the donors.

See the Wait, What? post on Malloy’s “Education Reform” fundraiser here: http://jonathanpelto.com/2013/01/02/malloy-affiliated-political-action-committee-cashes-in-on-education-reform-bill/

Now, StudentsFirst has released what they are calling their “first-ever State Policy Report Card.”

And Rhee and her organization have given Connecticut a grade of D+

Despite having one of the finest public education systems in the nation, Rhee says Connecticut should follow the lead of states like Louisiana and Florida which got grades of B.

Louisiana?

Pick any indicator and THE LAST THING CONNECTICUT should want to do is follow the lead of Louisiana

How about 8th Grade Reading?

Take a look at the NAEP National Test results:

Connecticut’s low income students score higher than the state-wide average for all students in Louisiana. 

Percent of Connecticut students at Goal 8th Grade Reading
ALL 83%
WHITE 91%
BLACK 66%
LATINO 66%
LOW INCOME 68%

 

Percent of Louisiana students at Goal 8th Grade Reading
ALL 66%
WHITE 78%
BLACK 52%
LATINO 63%
LOW INCOME 57%

 

We want to follow the lead of Louisiana?

StudentsFirst brags, “Unlike other education report cards, ours doesn’t look at test scores or teacher performance, but focuses solely on whether state laws are giving schools the tools to do the best job for our kids.”

The best laws that give our schools the tools to do the best job for our students?

Michele Rhee and StudentsFirst have FINALLY taken off their masks and are showing themselves for who they are.

This isn’t about our students!

This is about destroying unions, promoting charter schools and privatizing public education in the United States.

You can find Rhee’s “Connecticut Policy Report Card” here:  http://reportcard.studentsfirst.org/state-detail?state=Connecticut&utm_medium=email&utm_source=StudentsFirst&utm_content=Get+the+grade+Find+out+how+well+STATENAMEyour+state+is+doing+on+everything+from+education+spending+to+school+choice&utm_campaign=20130107ReportCardLaunch&source=20130107ReportCardLaunch

And the full report here:

http://edref.3cdn.net/9e8505b2c4ad5ec0e8_u6m6ikky8.pdf

And for two very different views of Michele Rhee, compare this New York Times piece to this PBS-Frontline piece:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/07/education/studentsfirst-issues-low-ratings-on-school-policies.html?hpw

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/education-of-michelle-rhee/

 

Michelle Rhee’s Husband Fined for Ethics Violations in California, is Connecticut next?

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The country’s leading public education advocate, Diane Ravitch, has a post on her blog today with the news that Kevin Johnson, the Mayor of Sacramento California, and husband of education reformer Michelle Rhee, has been fined $37,500 by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, for failing to report donations of at least $3.5 million to a number of his personal initiatives, including his Teach for America education reform effort and his “Think Big Arena Task Force”.

Among the unreported donations was $500,000 from the pro-education, ultra-conservative Walton Foundation, operated by the family that owns Wal-Mart.  The Walton Foundation has also provided funds to education reform groups active in Connecticut.

California may not be the only state investigating alleged illegal activities by Mayor Johnson, Michelle Rhee or their related organizations.

Based upon a complaint I filed, Connecticut’s State Election’s Enforcement Commission has opened an official investigation into the alleged campaign finance violations of Residents for a Better Bridgeport, the political action committee that was created to support Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s unsuccessful effort to eliminate Bridgeport’s democratically elected Board of Education and replace it with one appointed by himself.

The complaint identified a variety of alleged violations perpetrated by Residents for a Better Bridgeport including failure to reveal donations and expenditures, as required by law.

Last week, I filed two additional complaints, one against Excel Bridgeport and the other against the Great New England Public Schools Alliance, the front group set up by Michelle Rhee’s organization, StudentsFirst.

According to the complaints, neither Excel Bridgeport nor GNEPSA came close to fulfilling its legal obligation to file reports on time or properly account for donations and expenditures related to their campaign activities for Finch and his referendum.

One of the additional issues raised in the complaints relate to who paid for Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s trip to Bridgeport where he campaigned with Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas on behalf of Finch’s anti-democracy referendum.

Neither Citizens for a Better Bridgeport, Excel Bridgeport or GNEPSA reported any expenses related to Mr. Johnson’s campaign swing through Bridgeport.

The complaints allege multiple violations of Connecticut law.  Each of the three groups could face significant fines should they be found guilty.

You can find Diane Ravitch’s blog post here: Rhee’s Husband Fined for Ethics Violation

ConnCAN, StudentsFirst and Corporate Education Reformers roll out new Connecticut “pro-reform” blog?

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http://cteducation180.com/

A new Connecticut-oriented pro-corporate education reform blog has appeared.

The stated reason?

“Unfortunately, the naysayers and protectors of the status quo seem to be the only ones being heard. There needs to be an informational voice to even the playing field, to hold the obstructionists accountable and most of all, put the kids first!”

This rationale comes from the blog’s owner, Pat Scully, a political operative, apologist for Governor Dan Malloy and former press aide to the Connecticut Senate Democrats.  Scully also worked for a brief period of time for Sullivan & LeShane, a Republican serving lobby company.   In addition, Scully served as the campaign manager for former gubernatorial candidate Jim Amann.

Scully’s press release claims that his blog, “is intended to be a balancing and informational source for readers to get objective information about education reform in the state.”

Scully’s press release implies that the new blog is not affiliated, in any way, with ConnCAN, 50CAN, StudentsFirst, Achievement First, Council for Education Reform or any of the other corporate education reform groups.

However, in a rather funny side note,  the graphic of the graduation cap on his blog is virtually identical to the one used on the ConnCAN, 50CAN, RI-CAN, MINNCAN, PENNCAN, NYCAN and MarylandCAN blog sites. [Interestingly, Scully’s new website also shares the same internet server as 50CAN, MINNCAN, MarylandCAN AND GNEPSA.ORG (the front group for Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst organization).

Scully has devoted his first post to the task of rebuilding Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch’s image, by revising the facts associated with Finch’s failed attempt to do away with a democratically elected board of education and replace it with one appointed by the mayor.

According to Scully, Finch is saying that his effort to prevent Bridgeport voters from choosing their own board of education was completely misunderstood.  Finch explains, “I’m a father first and a mayor second…The coalition that supported the change was made up of more than 14,000 parents, some of whom I see when I put my kids on the bus.”

According to Scully, the problems were all associated with the elected board of education.  He writes, “It was an elected school board that threw up its hands in July of 2011 and asked for a state takeover. Fast forward past a lawsuit and a special election, the city has new board.  However, with the required minority representation, there is no evidence the board will be able to do what it’s supposed to do, particularly pass a budget. Again, no consideration of what’s best for the kids.”

I guess Scully missed about 99% of the facts surrounding the events leading up to the Malloy Administration’s illegal attempt to take over the Bridgeport Schools, nor has he actually been to a board meeting or he’d realize that his comments about a “failing” board are completely untrue.

Scully, like the rest of the Finch operatives, never manages to explain why he thinks minority representation is destroying Bridgeport when it works perfectly fine in more than 150 of Connecticut’s elected school boards.

Apparently winning controversial votes by a margin of 6-3 rather than 9-0 is just not sufficient for politicians who want to make sure there are no questions or opposition to their proposals.

Win or Lose Bridgeport’s Board Of Education battle, Finch has probably lost the war

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While most of the attention will be focused on the vote for President and members of the U.S. Senate, Congress, State Senate and State House of Representatives tomorrow, there will be plenty of eyes cast on what happens with the charter revision referendum in Bridgeport.

Mayor Bill Finch, “education reformers” and elite members of the corporate community are spending a record amount to try and convince Bridgeport voters that it is in their best interests to give up their democratic rights to select members of the Bridgeport Board of Education.

Instead, Mayor Finch and his followers want voters to believe that skipping democracy and simply allowing him to choose who will serve on the “citizen” board overseeing Bridgeport’s schools will produce a better education system.

This from a team that brought in Paul Vallas, the $229,000, part-time, “education reformer extraordinaire, ”  superintendent of schools, whose primary claim to fame, upon arrival in Bridgeport,  was to sign more than $12 million in no-bid contracts, including contracts hiring many “consultants” who actually worked for his private consulting company, The Vallas Group.

Throughout history, there have been certain moments in which a decision was made that may have sounded “good” at the time, put led to disaster and debacles of historic proportions.

Imagine the strategists who told Custer in 1876 that he’d have no problem pacifying the savages at Little Big Horn, or the military strategists who suggested that they just drop allied troops on the shores of Gallipoli in 1915.

Similar moments have arisen in politics.  For example, the brain trust who told President Richard Nixon, that it was a good idea to have thugs break into Democratic Headquarters, and that no one would ever figure out who did it.

Or the McCain campaign aides who told the Senator, pick Sarah Palin of Alaska to be the Republican candidate for Vice President, she’ll give the party just the boost it needs to beat that Obama guy.

Knowing what I know about Connecticut politics, Bridgeport’s Charter Revision Referendum, including the language doing away with an elected Board of Education and replacing it with one appointed by the Mayor, may pass tomorrow, but the repercussions of Finch’s move will haunt him and will undermine any dreams of grandeur he may harbor for a statewide political career.

Why? Because Connecticut voters believe in education, they believe in democracy and they have had more than their fair share of politicians who seek to use their office to provide financial support to their friends and supporters.

The number one conclusion that I’ve reached over the last nine months is that if Bill Finch had listened to public education advocates like Judge Carmen Lopez, and the Working Family Party members of the Board of Education, instead of his team of miscreants, he could have done a lot more to put Bridgeport’s education system back on track while creating an image for himself as someone who is actually dedicated to broad-based educational opportunity and achievement.

Instead, Captain Finch has turned his ship over to anti-union, anti-teacher and pro-privatization forces that are dismantling public education as we know it.

In direct opposition to the needs of children and taxpayers, Finch’s ship has transported a cadre of greedy, self-serving and unwelcome enemies, people and corporations that are more interested in seeking ways to turn our public schools into private money-making ventures.

To achieve those goals, they’ve decided that a democratically elected board of education, even in a City where the Democratic machine will always control six of the nine seats, is a threat.  So instead of building consensus and finding common ground, they are moving to simply do away with the perceived problem that democracy might cause for their agenda.

We’ll see tomorrow whether their money can buy them the outcome they desire, but their message and methods are an anathema to the people of Connecticut, and Finch has made the terrible mistake of choosing to serve as their Patron Saint.

Should Finch ever attempt to seek office outside the borders of the City of Bridgeport, he’ll find his approach to education and democracy are not appreciated.

Connecticut has 166 public school districts, 169 if you add in the three quasi-public academies.  There are 663 public elementary schools, 173 public middle schools and 170 public high schools.  Every day, more than 51,000 teachers and 40,000 professional and support staff go to work helping to provide over half a million students with the knowledge and skills to succeed.

The state’s greatest natural resource is its people, and in Connecticut, that means an educated workforce.

Nearly 87 percent of our citizens have graduated high school, the highest percent in the nation.  Almost 36 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is 30 percent higher than the national average.

And Connecticut’s parents understand the importance of education.  The state’s high school graduation rate is over 82 percent, the fifth highest, and well above the national average of 75%.

According to most recent data, 37,904 students graduated from Connecticut public high schools, and more than half of these graduates went on to attend a four-year college or university.

Another 24 percent of the graduates continued their education at two-year colleges or other educational institutions. A record 3 out of every 4 Connecticut high school graduates continued on with some type of educational program.

And nearly every single one of those school districts is guided by a group of citizens elected by their fellow voters.  Citizens whose job it is to preserve, protect and enhance the quality of education in their communities while weighing the very real financial limitations that face many communities.

At the same time, many of Connecticut’s urban school districts do face unparalleled challenges.  That is because poverty, language barriers and the need for special education services are the greatest predictors of academic success as measured by standardized test scores.

However, there is absolutely no evidence that communities with politically appointed boards of education do better than communities that have boards of education that are elected by the people.

Although we can certainly guess that the politically appointed ones have more success in driving resources and contracts to politically connected individuals and corporations.

Even when Hartford went for a mayoral appointed board, it recognized the importance of having some members elected, as well as appointed.

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch has made a huge political blunder and by associating himself with in-state and out-of-state corporate education reformers, he has ensured that he will be seen as one of Connecticut’s leading anti-public education, anti-union and anti-teacher politicians.

It would be a recipe for disaster for any Democrat, but particularly one from Connecticut.

The fact is that Bill Finch will undoubtedly pay a political price for failing to listen to what the pro-public education advocates have been saying, but sadly, it is a small price compared to the price Bridgeport’s public school students have had to pay as a result of the City’s misguided and mean-spirited policies.

Regardless of tomorrow’s vote, it is not too late for Finch and his political operatives to put aside their short-term political goals and actually open their ears and HEAR from those who put students ahead of politics.

But if the past year is any indication, they’ll continue to pursue the failed and destructive path they have been walking upon.

Whose money paid for the “Education Reformer’s” effort to influence the outcome of Connecticut 5th Legislative District?

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Last week, the Greater New England Public Schools Alliance engaged in an unprecedented effort to influence the outcome of an election in Connecticut.  GNEPSA, Michelle Rhee’s front group used a loophole in Connecticut campaign finance law to dumps tens of thousands of dollars in support of Democrat Brandon McGee and against Democrat Leo Canty.

In the course of six days, Rhee’s group spent more than either candidate had spent in the months of campaigning that had taken place before a re-vote was needed to determine the winner.

Because of the way Connecticut law is set up, Rhee’s organization did not have to disclose any detailed information about where she got her money for this inappropriate intervention in Connecticut Democratic politics.

The only facts that had to be revealed were the names of the top five organizations or individuals who donated to the GNEPSA campaign.  Those names were Michele Rhee’s national group, Students First, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc. (ConnAD), New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an investment banker named Nick Beim and Steve Perry, the principal of Hartford’s Capital Preparatory Magnet School.

The fact that list includes ConnAD, which is the sister organization to the Connecticut Association for Achievement Now, Inc., (ConnCAN), is by far the most stunning piece of information of all.

Patrick Riccards is the CEO of both ConnCAN and ConnAD, and both organizations are directly tied to Achievement First, Inc. the charter school management company that was formed by Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor and Dacia Toll, who now serves as Achievement First’s CEO.

Pryor and Toll formed Achievement First with the help of a small group of wealthy Fairfield County businessmen.  Achievement First’s incorporation papers were signed by Greenwich businessman William Berkley (who remains the Chairman of its Board of Directors) and Stamford’s Jonathan Sackler.  Achievement First’s board also included Greenwich businessman Alexander Troy, and soon after, they were joined by corporate CEO Andy Boas.

A year later, in September 2004, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc. (ConnCAN) was formed.  Leading the ConnCAN Board of Directors was a number of Achievement First’s directors including Jonathan Sackler, Alexander Troy and Andrew Boas

And three months after that, Jonathan Sackler and Alexander Troy set up ConnCAN’s sister organization, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc. (ConnAD), which immediately became the lobbying arm of ConnCAN.

Over the next seven years, ConnAD paid one of Hartford’s most prominent lobbying firms over $725,000 to lobby in support of charter school issues.  The payments were as follows:

2005    Gaffney Bennett         $85,000

2006    Gaffney Bennett         $85,000

2007    Gaffney Bennett         $90,000

2008    Gaffney Bennett         $90,000

2009    Gaffney Bennett         $95,400

2010    Gaffney Bennett         $95,400

2011    Gaffney Bennett         $95,000

And then this year, ConnCAN paid more than $800,000 to lobby on behalf of the “education reform” bill sponsored by Governor Malloy and Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

Earlier this year when I took on ConnCAN’s tactics here at Wait, What?, Patrick Riccards responded on the ConnCAN blog by saying,

“It’s always disappointing when we have to take time out of our work on commonsense, student-centered education reform in Connecticut to address misinformation about our organization. But this morning, Jonathan Pelto came out with an ad hominem attack about us on his blog called “Can ConnCAN Con Conn” that claims to have uncovered some sort of hidden agenda.”

Riccards went on to say, “We pride ourselves on being an incredibly transparent organization. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, our 990 FORM is available to the public. Our campaigns and donors are documented every year in our ANNUAL REPORT.”

What Riccards conveniently sidestepped was that they were moving the lobbying money through ConnAD and not ConnCAN and that ConnAD was set up in such a way that it did not have to file any documentation about where they got their money.  No 990 Forms and no annual reports.

Today, ConnAD has spent over $1.5 million and the people of Connecticut have no idea where that money is comes from?

The only thing we can guess is that it is coming from the Fairfield Country businessmen who formed the group and continue to help direct both Achievement First and its related public relations organizations.

However, last, but certainly not least, a new clue has arisen.

While ConnAD was originally formed by corporate executives Jonathan Sackler and Alex Troy, a third partner was quietly added to the incorporation papers, at some point during the last few years.

That third partner is Robert Furek, the former President and CEO of the Heublien Corporation.

While Furek lives on Marco Island in Florida, his is a name that may be familiar to a number of people in Connecticut.

Back in 1997, when Governor John Rowland and the Connecticut legislature moved to take over the Hartford School System, Rowland appointed Furek to head the Hartford schools system’s new Board of Trustees.

When he left the post three years later, the claim was that he had successfully turned around Hartford Schools.  The media reported that, “for the first time in years the district is focused on improving student achievement. In 1999, a permanent superintendent, Anthony Amato, was hired. He brought a disciplined new curriculum for elementary school students–and striking progress on standardized tests.”

Media reports went on to say, “Schools are cleaner. For the first time in as long as anyone can remember, incompetent school principals are being replaced. Textbooks are plentiful. Test scores are up under a renewed emphasis on reading, writing and math.”

Leaving aside the truthfulness as to whether Furek actually managed to turnaround the Hartford school system, Robert Furek may very well be better known for his role in raising campaign money for some of the most right-wing candidates and causes in the United States.

According to Federal Election Committee reports,  in addition to his work with the Connecticut Association for Achievement Advocacy, Inc., (ConnAD), , Robert Furek has been a major fundraiser and donor to the campaigns of George W. Bush for President,  John McCain for President, Romney for President, Paul Ryan for Congress, Rick Santorum’s U.S. senatorial run in 2006 and two extraordinarily controversial political action committees;  Progress for America Voter Fund, a primary vehicle for the Koch Brother’s assault on America and the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

So, all this brings us back to the independent expenditure aimed at influencing the outcome of the General Assembly’s 5th District seat.

Putting aside why the “education reformers” felt so strongly about the race, there is an even more pressing question – and that is – who exactly was behind this effort?

It was only a few months ago that ConnCAN’s Patrick Riccards claimed that, “We pride ourselves on being an incredibly transparent organization.”

Yes transparent is the absolute last thing they have been.

Well, now the moment of truth has arrived.

ConnAD has spent $1.5 million lobbying for “education reform” in recent years, the majority being spent in support of Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill.  And that effort doesn’t even count the money poured into this week’s special Democratic Primary.

“Incredibly transparent” organizations don’t hide the truth from the people of Connecticut.

The question must be answered; who has been funding ConnAD and how much has each person donate?

News Flash: Michelle Rhee had co-conspirators in the attempt to buy this week’s Democratic Primary.

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Official reports indicate that Connecticut’s primary “education reform” group was part of Rhee’s attempt to influence the outcome of this week’s Democratic Primary

It turns out that when Michelle Rhee dumped tens of thousands into this week’s re-vote to select the Democratic nominee in the General Assembly’s 5th House District, she wasn’t acting alone.

Initial media reports pointed out that the money being spent by the Greater New England Public School Alliance, Rhee’s front group, in support of Brendan McGee and against Leo Canty came from Rhee’s national organization, StudentsFirst, as well as from, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Steve Perry, the head of Hartford’s Capital Preparatory Magnet School.

But the media missed the fourth key donor to the Greater New England Public School Alliance’s massive spending effort.  According to those same reports, the fourth major donor was none-other-than ConnAD, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc., the sister organization of ConnCAN, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc.

Both organizations are directed by Patrick Riccards, ConnCAN’s CEO, and both organizations were created by the very same people who created and have been funding Achievement First, Inc., the Charter School Management company that was actually co-founded by Stefan Pryor, Malloy’s Commissioner of Education.

ConnAD and ConnCAN’s effort to influence public policy is extensive.  Even before Governor Malloy’s “education reform” bill was proposed, these two organizations spent more than half a million dollars lobbying on behalf of charter schools.

The two organizations ramped up their lobbying after Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor introduced Malloy’s “education reform” bill.  Although their ethics reports appear to be filled out incorrectly, in violation of Connecticut’s ethics laws, it appears that ConnAD, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Advocacy, Inc., spent nearly $825,000 in their effort to pressure legislators to support Malloy’s bill.

At the same time, ConnCAN, the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now, Inc., appears to have spent another $230,000 lobbying Malloy’s bill, bringing the total expenditures by the two Connecticut based groups to over $1,000,000.  That doesn’t even count the historic lobbying expenditure by Michelle Rhee.

What these latest State Election Enforcement Commission reveal is that Patrick Riccards, ConnAD and ConnCAN have now moved past their efforts to influence policy through their lobbying and have begun to directly campaign for and against individual candidates.

However, due to the way ConnAD was set up, it doesn’t need to disclose where it gets its funding.  This loophole means that Connecticut citizens don’t know who actually paid for last spring’s historic lobbying effort or who is presently behind the effort to impact the outcome of these Democratic primaries.

At this point, the only piece that is known is that Michelle Rhee, with the help of Connecticut education reformers got deeply involved in this week’s Democratic primary.

After an initial primary, two recounts and a judicial order for a re-vote, the voters of Hartford and Windsor choose Brandon McGee over Leo Canty, to be the Democratic nominee in the General Assembly’s 5th House District, on Tuesday.

While the battle was mostly a local one, Michelle Rhee’s effort to influence the outcome garnered national attention.  As noted, Michelle Rhee’s Greater New England Public Schools Alliance spent an unprecedented amount in support of McGee and against Canty.

So why would one of the country’s leading “education reformers,” along with ConnAD and ConnCAN, target a particular candidate in a Democratic primary, when that house seat is just one of 187 house and senate seats in Connecticut?

The reason seems to be due to the fact that Leo Canty serves as a leader in the Connecticut chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

The fact that Michelle Rhee would leave the national stage to target a particular candidate in a Connecticut legislative primary is surprising enough.  The revelation that Connecticut’s primary education reform group would actually help fund such a campaign effort, is, quite frankly, unbelievable.

ConnAD and ConnCAN have been closely aligned with Governor Malloy and Commissioner Pryor.  In fact, Commissioner Pryor has publicly credited ConnCAN for their help in passing Malloy’s bill.

With ConnAD and ConnCAN now funding an independent campaign to defeat an individual Democratic candidate because they belong to a teacher’s union raises some extraordinarily serious questions about who was involved in these decisions and whose money was actually being used.

The initial press reports were that the Greater New England Public Schools Alliance spent about $32,000 in their independent campaign to influence the outcome of the primary.  However, additional reports were submitted in the final days of the primary indicating that other expenditures were made.  It should be noted though that the reports are so poorly completed that it is difficult to determine exactly how much Rhee’s group spent.

The following amounts were submitted to the State Elections Enforcement Commission:

Greater New England Public Schools Alliance 9/26/2012 $31,977.51
Greater New England Public Schools Alliance 9/28/2012 $5,606.18
Greater New England Public Schools Alliance 10/2/2012 $8,889.43
Greater New England Public Schools Alliance (amended report) 10/2/2012 $1,1226.00

 

 

The solution to everything: More Standardized Testing!

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Public education experts Diane Ravitch and Gary Rubinstein write about a recent letter from 30 plus “education reform” groups to Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

The “education reformer’s” message; standardized test scores should be used to measure the effectiveness of teacher training programs in the United States.

No don’t laugh, these people are for real.

Here is what they want. Colleges graduate teachers; teachers get hired; the teacher’s students take standardized tests; the standardized test score not only determine which teachers are retained and which are fired, but the scores are also used to determine whether the colleges that trained them should get more or less funding.

Their plan completely fails to take into consideration the role poverty, language barriers and special education needs play in influencing standardized test scores.

What will happen?  Universities and colleges that push their teachers to teach in high income, low need areas will show their “worth” by having graduates that have students that produce consistently high test scores.  Colleges and Universities that urge their students to tackle the most difficult teaching environments, poor, inner city schools, will run the risk of being labeled “failures,” because the students of those graduates won’t score high enough on standardized tests.

Who would even think of such a stupid plan, let alone work to get the Obama Administration to implement it?

A group of 30 charter school management companies…

And who is at the top of the list of organizations signing the letter.

Connecticut’s own Achievement First Inc., the large charter school management firm that was founded, in part, by Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of Education, Stefan Pryor.

And another group behind the effort, ConnCAN, the charter school lobby organization, that was set up by the directors of Achievement First.

And 50CAN, the national off-shoot of ConnCAN, also set up by Achievement First’s directors is pushing the absurd concept.

Other organizations behind the effort are “Teach for America, StudentsFirst, Democrats for Education Reform (the Wall Street hedge fund managers), The New Teacher Project, Jeb Bush’s rightwing Chiefs for Change and his Foundation for Educational Excellence.”

Read Diane Ravitch’s blog here:  http://dianeravitch.net/2012/09/04/talk-about-nerve/

And Gary Rubinstein’s blog here: http://garyrubinstein.teachforus.org/2012/09/04/tfa-implores-obama-administration-to-hold-teacher-preparation-programs-accountable/

As Diane Ravitch notes, “these people and these organizations are wrong. They are driving American education in a destructive direction. They will reduce children to data points, as the organizations thrive…”

The time to stop the standardized testing madness is now.

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